May 3, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/223052362324897/

 

If you'd like to follow along, click for the Service Booklet and Hymns & Psalter


2020 May3_FrIan

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The 3 Sundays following Easter Sunday start with stories from the Book of Acts which highlight the mission of the Apostles. The 3 stories occur directly after the Pentecost moment of receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ followers are jazzed up and on fire (no pun intended) to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.


“And day by day the Lord added
to their number those who were
being saved.

 

This should encourage us to add to our number. This might be an odd time to talk about mission & evangelism and numerical growth. But is it? Today is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, as you can gather from the Psalm, 1 Peter and the Gospel. It’s the second of 3 times that we will recite Psalm 23 this year. Jesus the Good Shepherd has been a comfort for many of you during this time, your Go-To Guy. The Good Shepherd may have been in the form of personal prayer, Bible Study, or a phone call with another person from St Stephen’s. Sharing what you have received from that with someone who isn’t part of a faith community is sharing the Good Shepherd, and it’s spreading the Good News.

 

During catastrophic events, whether personal, community-wide or indeed global, I worry most about those who don’t belong to any group or organization, and who aren’t surrounded by family or friends. Such people are not only the elderly who have withdrawn from a social life. It can include all sorts of people: new to town, works long or awkward hours, doesn’t socialize much in general, isn’t really a joiner. We all know at least one person who doesn’t engage much. When a crisis occurs, those are the ones I worry about.

 

Consider a 30yo who moved to town a couple of months ago for a new job. Any of you who have done that will know that it can take 2 or 3 years to make friends who are not related to work. That person has to be very deliberate in building a social circle which one day in the future might be close enough to be a safety net.

 

People of faith who belong to a church are different, and it’s not only about the tight-knit and supportive community. Studies have long shown that people of faith survive personal and community crises better than people who are not spiritual or religious. And it’s a direct correlation: the more religious you are, the more robust you are during a crisis. Just read the Book of Acts. They accomplish a lot despite great adversity. For 3 centuries, faithful Christians knew that their confession of Jesus as their Lord and Savior would lead to their death. But their faith kept them strong.

 

According to Christina Tausch, Loren D. Marks, Diane D. Sasser and their co-authors, religion is comprised of 3 dimensions: a faith community, religious practices, and spiritual beliefs. They wrote a paper for the Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging entitled “Religion and Coping with Trauma: Qualitative Examples from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita”. What they found was that those who belonged to faith communities were happier and more settled during the lengthy recovery. They drew upon their faith community, their religious practices and their spiritual beliefs to shepherd themselves, their families and others through the recovery. The article cites specific anecdotes.

 

They also cited some names I was familiar with. One of my roles as Chaplain to the Faculty of Health & Social Care at the University of Chester was to deliver a seminar on Spiritual Care. I got access to nursing students in their very last week of their 3-year program. As several would say at the end of my 3hr seminar, “This is way too late to start learning about spiritual care. We should have had this in Year 1.” Who was I to argue?

 

We spent time discussing, basically, what the authors of the paper found: that in difficult times, a person relies on his faith for not only comfort, but for perseverance. How, then, can those who spend the most time with a person who is in the hospital, the nurses, help that person practice his faith in this new and stressful setting? What are the signs that nurses should be looking for which indicate that the patient needs spiritual care? What questions can the nurse with no faith background ask to tease out what the patient needs? What the authors of the article relied on was much of the work of the same researchers into spiritual care whose work I was reading. And there are ways to nurture spirituality.

 

We can see in our scriptures the basis of the article authors’ study. In Acts, 1 Peter and the Gospel, there are cohesive faith communities. Each of the communities share common beliefs and common goals. They are close enough to offer support in times of adversity and have a sense of all being in this together.

 

Those communities would also have had their religious practices. Like it says in Acts: Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

 

And those communities would have had their spiritual beliefs. Like it says in 1 Peter:

 

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

 

For me, with faith in the Good Shepherd comes going to church, and with church comes community, and with community comes love. And we all know, God, who sent us the Good Shepherd, is Love.

 

So, can we add to our number in
a crisis and without physical
gathering? Yes, we can!

 

You can reach out to those who have no community support and draw them into the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd. Whom do you know who is isolated? New to the area? A self-proclaimed “loner”? Like I discussed with those nursing students, there are signs and clues to discover another person’s needs. And we all need the Good Shepherd right now. As a newcomer to faith, they will discover what we already know: that people who are more spiritual have a higher life satisfaction in times of crisis. Stubborn self-reliance doesn’t lead to a happy life or emotional coping skills. It usually leads to high stress levels.

 

Give some thought about the person you are most concerned about. How can you bring that person into the sheepfold? How can you use this time to care for your friends and neighbors? How can we show them how Jesus is the guardian of our souls?

 

I’ll tell you of a story of a man who started coming to St Clement’s Chorlton in Manchester, the parish that I was serving before I went to the University of Chester. Every person living in England has the right to have his or her funeral in their local parish church. So, during my 3+ years at St Clement’s, the vast majority of about 120 funerals I officiated were of people who had no connection with the parish church. Our parish did a lot of funerals, about 85 per year shared between 3 ministers.

 

So, one funeral was particularly memorable because it was a very sad affair. I’ll call the deceased Sue. She was in her 70s, and she left behind her husband, whom I’ll call Ron, a daughter and grandson who lived 150mi away and rarely visited, and a son in Australia who was not flying back for the funeral. Because they had gradually withdrawn from society, Sue and Ron had no friends or acquaintances. At the funeral were Ron, the daughter and grandson, a pastor from an evangelical church and me. It was very, very sad.

 

When I visited Ron a couple of weeks after the funeral, he told me that he and his late wife just slowly kept more and more to themselves. They weren’t religious, but he would have interesting conversations with that pastor who was leader of a small conservative evangelical church across the street from their small apartment. I didn’t even know that Chorlton Evangelical Church existed, and I passed by it every day! Ron was not only sad that he lost his wife; he was a sad man in general, and he admitted that he and his wife were not particularly happy people.

 

Ron met with me a couple of times over the next months, and he explored the possibility of coming to church. He was desperately lonely. One Sunday, he did come to church. He was very clear that he didn’t believe everything, but his conversations with the pastor stimulated his interest. In reality, he was looking for the community. Over the next year or so, Ron became part of the St Clement’s community, and belonged before he believed. The community changed him. He became a more engaged and happier person. He didn’t turn into the life of the party, but he definitely changed. He wanted to learn more, so he attended adult education, and he met with me, the Rector and the Church Army Officer to learn more about the Christian faith in a different way than the evangelical pastor had been telling him over the years. He became a believer after belonging. He became a healthier person because he had a community of believers who knew how to be a shepherd to him and introduce him to the Good Shepherd.

 

There are many like Ron in this town and county, and even in your own lives.

 

You can introduce them to the
Good Shepherd, and it’s easier
now than it has ever been.

 

We have the biggest potential audience we will ever have by having our services online. It’s so easy now for you to give someone the link to our services, saying: “My faith in Jesus the Good Shepherd and my church community are getting me through this. Why don’t you join us from the comfort of your own home?” Hey…at least walking out in the middle of the service won’t be as nerve wracking as it is in person! And when you do invite that person to join our Virtual Worship, remember 2 things: a person is more likely to come to church if invited by someone they know; and a person usually has to be asked on 3 occasions before they join you at church. A “no” doesn’t always mean “no”; it often means “not yet”.

 

The last time we recited Psalm 23 was the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 22, a couple of days after the statewide shelter-at-home order, and our first Virtual Worship. It was the comfort we needed to hear. You gazed upon the Good Shepherd Window from your computer screens. The hymns offered familiarity in a time of uncertainty. This is the 7th Sunday of Virtual Worship. Whom do you know who doesn’t have the comfort of Jesus the Good Shepherd? Who doesn’t have the support of a community? Who hasn’t had someone to turn to during this time of uncertainty and of indefinite length?

 

Introduce them to Jesus the
Good Shepherd.

 

Report reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548597/


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